After months of hunting for a 21st-century Vincent van Gogh look-alike, Douglas Coupland has found his red-haired, bearded man. Daniel Baker, an actor from Christchurch, England, has won the “I am Vincent” competition that Coupland launched over the summer. It invited anyone who thought they shared a likeness with the Postimpressionist painter to submit a photo portrait, and us non-doppelgängers to vote for the best contenders. Aside from his new identity as van Gogh reincarnate, Baker has also received a €5,000 (~$5,300) cash prize as well as a bronze bust of himself made from 3D scans. Not too shabby for simply having a particular combination of phenotypes!
Coupland selected Baker’s picture from a pool of 1,250 submissions from 37 countries, which featured men from Sweden to Canada breaking out their best straw hats or posing in museums beside the artist’s self-portraits. He took into account the popular vote and exercised his own judgement, but he also consulted doctors, as he was searching for someone who has biometric data that matches van Gogh’s. At a glance, the 35-year-old’s resemblance is pretty remarkable: Baker has a similar face shape, jaw line, and cheekbones as van Gogh; his hair is truly on point, from the styling of his beard to his hairline; and even his expression in the photos he submitted echoes the somber, slightly troubled look of the artist in some of his self-portraits. According to the BBC, Baker described his own visage as a “worn face.”
“I am Vincent” emerged from Coupland’s personal fascination with van Gogh and his work, but also from his interesting finding that many people in North America and Europe know someone who bears a resemblance to the artist. As he writes on his blog, Coupland was thinking about the reasons why people look like themselves — are we copying the image of someone famous, for instance? — and whether van Gogh’s own look has become “a universal archetype.” The competition is also part of Redheads, Coupland’s ongoing project that explores a rare but very successful human mutation.
Redheads does not just focus on humans, however. It turns out that Pinot Noir grapes are the redheads of the wine grape world: they represent 2% of wine grapes grown around the world, while redheads make up 2% of our global population. Go figure! To Coupland, this unexpected intersection of genetic evolution in different species is a phenomenon to be explored and celebrated.
“Known as the heartbreak grape,’ Pinot Noir is extremely delicate and its genetics make it highly susceptible to clonal evolution,” he writes. “This genetic magic in both redheads and Pinot Noir grapes is a microcosm of the way in which all life on earth evolves with time.”
It’s only natural, then, that Baker’s bust will be unveiled and installed at a Pinot Noir vineyard in British Columbia, whose owner, the entrepreneur Anthony von Mandl, commissioned the piece. Coupland recently flew his van Gogh doppelgänger to Vancouver, where Baker’s face was 3D-scanned to attain data for a bronze sculpture — a medium the artist himself never dabbled in. It’s only the first in a series of outdoor works that Coupland will create as part of Redheads, the details of which remain under wraps.